A Brief History of the Simple Net Art Diagram

by MTAA on May 18, 2015 · 1 comment GIF of the Day

set internet to 1997 and begin…
AFC and MTAA proudly presents a brief history of the “Simple Net Art Diagram.”
You find yourself following Paddy Johnson down a long windowless hallway. After a seemly endless walk, the hallway ends at an office door. Stenciled on the door in faded black letters are the words “MTAA DEEP ACHIEVE.” Paddy opens the door revealing a wooden staircase leading downwards. She flips on the switch at the top of the steps. Fluorescent lights flicker to life. Stepping aside, she beckons you to proceed. At the bottom of the steps you find a small office crammed wall to wall with filing cabinets. Two desks sit in the center of the office. Seated behind one of the desks with his feet up and newspaper open is M.River of MTAA. He seems startled to see you and then eagerly stands up…

  1. River of MTAA – Hello and welcome to MTAA’s Deep Archive. Paddy asked if I could give you some background on MTAA’s artwork know as the “Simple Net Art Diagram” (a.k.a SNAD) as well as a brief history on some works artist have made with this animated GIF.

(M. River walks over to a file cabinet, opens a drawer and pulls out a folder. He gently blows dust from the cover and then opens the folder. He pulls out the SNAD and holds it up to the light.)

Yes. Here it is. Behold! The “Simple Net Art Diagram” in all its splendor.


(He then pulls another document from the folder.)

And here is the download for the SNAD vector art as well as the Creative Commons License for all you copyright fans.


Now, I know what you’re thinking: “What the hell is the ‘Simple Net Art Diagram’ and why does it keep showing up in my browser/net-art lecture series/AFC posts/Rhizome party-announcements?” Excellent question. Before I get down to answering, I should mention my partner in MTAA, T.Whid, retired from the art world in 2011. Although he has gone on to greener and perhaps saner pastures, T.Whid agreed to fax over some of his thoughts on the early days of the SNAD. Let’s see what he says….

(M.River holds up a thin yellowed sheet of paper, you read…)

Simple Net Art Diagram: A Secret History

A version of the Simple Net Art Diagram (SNAD) was first used as an illustration in the 3rd iteration of MTAA’s TIME!®, which went online in 1998. I stole the buffering icon from RealAudio Player (audio streaming software that was popular around that time) and worked it up into the gif you see there. You’ll notice a couple of differences between the canonical version of SNAD and the one in TIME!®, the main being the “remember the good” caption that was later replaced.

The gif was first on the web as “Simple Net Art Diagram” in the 2nd iteration of MTAA’s website: mteww.com (see the left rail). This iteration went live sometime in 2000. The exact date is lost. But the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine has the 2nd iteration definitely online on August 8, 2000.

If you look closely at the canonical version of SNAD, you’ll see that it has a caption: “ca. 1997.” Why 1997? When we decided to promote it as a piece in itself, I rooted through my file system at the time and the earliest source file for the gif had a “created date” in 1997.

It’s was a bit revisionist. But, we made it clear (backup link) long ago that no one should trust anything we say.

M.River: Well, there it is. Soooo…the SNAD came into the world and sat around until the point we kinda forgot about it. Occasionally someone would use it in a book, a show or a birthday cake. For most of the tine, it just was. Then one fine day, Abe Linkoln kicked new life into the work.

Abe Linkoln’s  – “The Complex Net Art Diagram,” 2003


In Abe’ version of the SNAD, the connecting route between terminals is one long Baroque distraction. The Complex Net Art Diagram depicts the “here” not only as the location of art but the place where everything else happens. In this version and the path between point A and B gets…well…wet.

And moving on, The Complex Net Art Diagram was followed by some other fine updates…

Abe Linkoln and Jimpunk’s – simple NETART diagram, 2004


Like Abe’s “Complex Net Art Diagram,” Abe and Jim’s collaborative work “simple NETART diagram” uses the “here” between computers as the site for the free flow of culture. The difference being what the “here” shows is worked out as a conversion between the two artist. Before the rise of surfclubs, Abe and Jimpunk’s 544×378.free.fr (Web TV) used the framwork of the SNAD to explore the deep landsacpe of the Interwebs.

Kevin Bewersdorf – “Maximum Sorrow,” 2008


After Abe and Jimpunk recasted the SNAD as a window to dig deep into the external internet, Kevin Bewersdorf, rebuilds the work into a feedback loop for a internet of the self. Built as part of Bewersdorf now defunct self brand and self corporation maximumsorrow.com, the work points not to an attempt to understand art and the internet but a desire to understand what the internet has done to one’s mindset on art.

Heading into our current century, the Simple Net Art Diagram keeps rolling along with work like this archived viral contamination SNAD

Jon Cates – “IN.F3XXX10N.US,” 2010


and this very cool tweet version that made some of our online friends think T.Whid or I had kicked the bucket. (Note: Please update and repost this SNAD when we do. That will be cool.)

exq=.s.te =n.c&de/s @crashtxt  –Simple Net Art Diagram Tweet,” 2013


and also this lovely uncredited glitchy SNAD sent to me in 2015 as part of a call for entry for a European GIF awards.

author and title unknown, 2015


(M.River closes the folder and places it back into a cabinet. He sits down and swings his feet back on the desk.)

All right. Now that we have gone over some background on the “Simple Net Art Diagram” and looked at some ways other artists have used it to create new works, let’s get down to the heart of the matter. What’s SNAD all about?  What is the meaning, if any, of the image beyond an illustrative diagram? How does SNAD function? Also, what is SNAD’s relation to net art of the past and post-internet art of our current moment? Well, after mulling over it over for 17 years, here is what I believe…

(Suddenly the overhead lights flash on and off. You hear Paddy calling from the top of the stairs)

Paddy Johnson: Okay. Okay. Time’s up. Show’s over. We’re running a blog on contemporary art here. I can’t hang out all day dwelling on the Ye Ol’ Net Art. Let’s get a move on.

M.River: Oh, well. Next time. Thanks for stopping by. If you see a SNAD out there in the wild of the World Wide Web, or make one yourself, shoot me an email and I’ll add it to the MTAA Deep Archive.

(As you climb back up the stairs, you look back and see M.River waving goodbye. He gives you a thumbs up and says quietly…)

M.River: …and remember the good.


Returning your internet to right about now…


hat tip to Curt Cloninger and Furtherfield.org for the legwork on SNAD updates way back in 2011.

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